Minnesota Water Science Center
Bemidji Crude-Oil Project
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Research Policy Statement
Table of Contents:
USGS Research Coordinator: Barbara Bekins
USGS Site Coordinator: Jared Trost
Research efforts at the Bemidji, Minnesota, crude-oil spill site are directed towards understanding the combined physical, chemical, and biological processes affecting the migration and fate of slightly soluble, organic contaminants in a field-scale system. These processes include the flow of the immiscible organic fluid, the partitioning of volatile components into the unsaturated zone gas phase, the dissolution of soluble components into the water phase, microbially mediated and abiotic redox processes, and the impact of these reactions on the organic and inorganic geochemistry of the ground-water system. The complexities of interacting and competing processes make studying the field scale challenging. Additionally, all processes occurring in the field are modified, if not controlled, by the spatial variability of physical and chemical properties. Through interdisciplinary research teams and intensive field studies, we hope to integrate the knowledge obtained into a comprehensive understanding of the overall mass balance of the oil in the subsurface, and of the processes controlling the fate of the oil in the subsurface. Knowledge gained and methodologies developed from detailed studies at this site will be relevant to other sites, and will help understand the potential for in situ bioremediation of organic ground-water contamination.
The planning and coordination of research at the Bemidji site is based on four principles: (1) focusing research on a specific field site draws together scientists of various disciplines who might otherwise think they have little in common. All researchers must deal with the overall physical, chemical, and microbiological system, finding it to their advantage to work together to accomplish their aims; (2) the field site is used as a field laboratory to study processes as they operate in the natural environment. In other words, the purpose is not to answer site-specific questions, but to gain a general understanding that incorporates the complexities inherent in the real world; (3) the results of work at the site must be disseminated to the scientific community and the public. The product is not the work, but the findings disseminated through publications, presentations, and field trips; (4)"bottom-up" planning, with an emphasis on personal and collective initiative, leads to better research than "top-down" planning.
Active researchers meet as a group least twice per year. The first group meeting (typically a conference call) occurs in spring or early summer. The purpose of this meeting is to brief the research team on new findings, plan the upcoming field work, and more specifically,to discuss the "where" and "when" and "what" of sampling efforts to encourage collaborations and minimize interferences. The second group meeting occurs in person during the field session. This meeting focuses more on research progress, status, and ongoing investigations at the Bemidji site. It is important for each research team to have at least one representative at eaach of these meetings to ensure active participation in research direction and implementation at the site.
Ideas for new and innovative research at the Bemidji site are encouraged. These ideas need to be coordinated, however, to avoid the unnecessary, or unintentional, duplication of research efforts. Research ideas could originate from many different sources including USGS or University researchers, industry scientists, requests for proposals, or sometimes as a result of interest expressed by a potential funding agency. In many cases, new research efforts begin because of new collegial contacts that bring in fresh ideas. These fresh ideas need to be developed and implemented in coordination and consultation with the other Bemidji researchers, to ensure that the proposed research is a good investment of the site's resources and that the work builds on, and adds to, other work at the site. The fresh ideas also need to be developed and implemented in coordination with the Water Science Center, to insure that the proposed work can be supported by the site's infrastructure.
All ideas for new research at the Bemidji site must be communicated, first of all, to the research coordinator (currently Barbara Bekins) and the site coordinator (currently Jared Trost). The proposed project will then be distributed to the site's steering committee. The steering committee was formed in 2009 as part of a 4-party collaborative agreement between the USGS, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Beltrami County, and Enbridge Energy, LLC. The purpose of the steering committee is maintain the National Crude Oil Spill Fate and Natural Attenuation Research Site, where research can be conducted concerning the fate of crude oil in the environment. One person from each of the USGS, MPCA, Beltrami County, and Enbridge Energy, LLC serves on the steering committee. The project proposal will then be distributed to the active Bemidji research team for further discussion and coordination.
Each non-USGS research team (including scientists from academic institutions, state and federal agencies, and industry) needs to have a strong link to a USGS researcher working at the Bemidji site, or preferably a USGS person actively involved in their research effort. A representative of each research team must attend both annual planning meetings to coordinate the summers field work and update the other researchers their planned research. The new research team should plan to discuss how their research proposal is linked to the overall research goals of the project.
Researchers from private industry are required to complete a Technical Assistance Agreement (TAA) form prior to starting research at the site. The TAA formalizes the relationship between the private entity and the USGS and defines the scope of work for each line of investigation.
The Minnesota USGS Water Science Center serves as the formal coordinator for work at the Bemidji site and has ultimate responsibility for decisions concerning the site's operation. Therefore, all plans for field work and requests for field support must be communicated to the site coordinator to allow for adequate planning. The staff from the Minnesota Water Science Center will provide local assistance in planning specific field efforts and in coordinating major field activities.
Advance planning is extremely important in relation to scheduling of the drill rig. All drilling plans must be scheduled before field activities commence each summer. Requests for use of the drill rig to install wells, collect soil cores, or conduct other research will be discussed at the annual planning meeting.
The Minnesota Water Science Center will provide its Mobile B56 hollow-stem drill rig and a skid-steer mounted Geoprobe 540B, including a driller and a helper, during periods of drilling and field data collection. The drill rig is capable of obtaining intact 1.875 inch diameter sediment cores of the unsaturated and saturated zones through 8-inch outside-diameter hollow-stem augers. The Geoprobe is capable of obtaining intact 1.25 inch sediment cores of the unsaturated and saturated zones through Geoprobe's dual tube tool string. Standard water-sampling equipment, such as pumps, tubing, nitrogen gas, gas regulators, deionized water, cleaning solvents, tools, generators, and general supplies, will be provided by the Minnesota Water Science Center. Water levels and oil levels will be measured quarterly in a network of monitoring wells using a electronic or steel tape. Continuous monitoring of water levels will be made in selected wells using data loggers. All water-level, oil-level, geologic, and other well data will be entered into a relational data base. Minnesota USGS personnel will provide researchers with accurate, up-to-date information on well locations, well depths, water levels, geology, and similar data on request. Status reports, summarizing significant activities and research findings, will be compiled and distributed semi-annually. Minnesota USGS personnel will also be collaborating on research at the site.
Data collected from all researchers needs to be provided to the site coordinator for inclusion in the site's database. Organized, detailed data supports every research project at the site, and therefore is a key contribution from each scientist. Contact the site coordinator for more specifics on data submission.
Semi-annual reports are provided to the USGS Toxic Substances Hydrology program. The site coordinator sends out a request to the entire Bemidji contact list. Every active researcher at the site is required to submit an update on their project and publication status for inclusion in these reports.A copy of each draft manuscript needs to be sent to the the research coordinator and the site coordinator at the time of peer review. The manuscript will be reviewed by the coordinator(s) for consistent presentation of historical information about the site. Comments will be provided to the author(s) if necessary. The sharing of the manuscript keeps the research and site coordinators informed of recent findings, enabling them to better answer questions regarding ongoing or completed research at the site. A copy of the final interpretive report, as well as all conference abstracts, should be sent to the coordinators following publication. An up-to-date bibliography is maintained by the USGS Toxics program here: Toxics bibliography.